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Work Capability Assessment

Volume 523: debated on Monday 14 February 2011

2. What discussions he has had on changes to the work capability assessment for those with variable conditions. (39801)

We are, as the House knows, committed to improving the work capability assessment so that it is as fair and accurate as possible, including for people with variable conditions. It currently provides for variable conditions, but we are implementing all the recommendations of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s independent review. I have asked Professor Harrington to take forward the next review, which will include a detailed look at how the assessment deals with fluctuating conditions, to see whether we can make further improvements.

The Minister will be aware of the concerns of people who have conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, who have good days and bad days. They are anxious to ensure that they receive fair treatment through the work capability assessment, taking account of their ability to complete activities on a regular basis. Can the Minister provide an assurance that the variable nature of such conditions will be fully considered, and that the assessment will identify the appropriate level of support for individuals to enable those who can to get back into work?

I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, I have asked Professor Harrington to work with people who specialise in ME as part of his review. I do not want us to write off everybody with a particular condition. It is important to identify who can potentially work and who cannot, and to provide them with the appropriate support. That is the goal of our policy and what we will seek to do, and I am mindful of the concerns that my hon. Friend raises.

The sharp increase in job losses forecast this morning by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development will make it harder still for people with health conditions to find jobs. Last week, the Minister tabled regulations that modify the mental health descriptors in the work capability assessment, but at the same time, following his acceptance of Professor Harrington’s recommendations, to which he has referred, an alternative set of descriptors is being drafted by Mind, Mencap and others. Should he not wait until he has received their advice before he makes changes?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we ourselves had one review carried out last year by Professor Harrington, and we also inherited a set of recommendations from an internal review carried out by the previous Government. I considered carefully the recommendations left to us by the right hon. Gentleman and his party, and the internal review recommended changes that would increase the number of people with mental health problems who go into the support group and receive unconditional support. His party was right to make that recommendation, and I am pleased to accept it, but we will take all further steps necessary to ensure that people with mental health problems are treated fairly and properly by the system.